We seriously need money. Anything. A buck. Come ahhhn!
the second law of thermodynamics is that with the passage of time, okay,
entropy occurs. In other words, everything kind of winds down and—”
There’d been a $50 luncheon prior to my arrival. BEAST publisher and legal counsel Paul Fallon had found a “loophole” and scammed his way in for free. He fled, conspicuously, when we were accosted by... this woman.
Magdelina was about seventy, in earth years, and waddled like an epileptic penguin on Ephedrine. She held photocopied anti-evolution pamphlets at her sides, flapping them wildly when excited. She’d almost struck the candidate with her schizophrenic doodlings. Why was she here, talking about this? Every “progressive” event I’ve ever attended has been marred by the presence of a ranting conspiratorial lunatic. But a ranting anti-evolution lunatic? Novel.
She was ghostly pale. Her eyes were slightly cataracted. She looked far away, obscured by pearly clouds of madness. This foggy-eyed look is most popular among the elderly, the deeply religious, Vietnam-era acid casualties, zombies and early-generation cyborgs. She was some of these things, if not all.
“And, and, and—”
“That means you die eventually,” I interrupt coldly, hoping she’ll take the hint.
“And, so right, and, and, okay, when I was studying anthropology we learned the Pleistocene, the paleontologists, all these HOOGIE-BOOGA-BOOGA-BOOGA-BOOGUM!” she spits, violently oscillating her head, whipping her red lips against her rouge cheeks. “Heh-heh! What do you—because, because what? That doesn’t tell the whole story...”
Creationists and intelligent design freaks cite entropy, routinely and without understanding, as their deathblow to Darwin. Things cannot become more complex, they say; it’s a law of physics. But all life breaks this law—for a time—by eating. And yet, no one’s arguing against the existence of life. Or sandwiches.
“...So, at the time I was learning, and, you know, I was the number one in my class—I just memorized everything—and something just didn’t seem quite right...”
I turn and walk toward the coffee. She pursues in frenetic
penguin fashion. I pour a cup and guard what little is left. I’ve
found my niche, scavenging the picked over cakes and gulping stale coffee.
I look down at the breathless bird-woman.
I nervously case the crowd of about thirty. It’s mostly gray-hairs (damn entropy!), with a scant ponytail turnout. Nader is, after all, the oldest horse in the 2008 race. The independent candidate is John McCain’s senior by over two years.
“I’ll tell you how it works: The people
at the top, whoever they are, here’s the thing in a nutshell: They
believe in Lucifer—the power of Lucifer—and they channel spirits.
Okay? All that stuff, okay. They, now, you know, the original, um, where
we hear about Lucifer in the Old Testament. You know, how popular he was,
very bright and articulate, handsome and so forth and so on.”
Things do fall apart. People, minds, moralities, ethoi, empires and life itself—nothing escapes entropy; the crazy penguin was right about that much. And in this minuscule corner of a cooling universe, on a polluted planet, in this crumbling empire, surrounded by dying people seated in creaky folding chairs, I get more coffee. What else can you do?
“I’d like to thank Channel 2 for coming today,” some old hippie lauds a camera crew before Nader begins. Everyone claps.
“Is that the ABC affiliate?” Nader asks the group.
“NBC!” half shout back. Magdelina fiddles her stack of papers. She looks like she’s going to blow up.
“It’s not enough they use our airwaves for free,” Nader chides the crowd, “we also have to thank them for coming!” What a righteous dick.
The rest was classic Nader. Twenty-five minutes of basic truths. Corporations are screwing the little guy by purchasing politicians, and the world’s going to shit in general. Here’s most it:
“The American people have got ask themselves a serious question: Why is it that a majority want single payer health insurance—that is government insurance, private delivery, with full, free choice of doctor and hospital—and they haven’t been able to get it since Harry Truman proposed it to congress in 1950? Every year, according to the National Academy of Science, 18,000 Americans die because they can’t afford health care...
“The American people want a change. None of the other candidates—McCain, Obama or Clinton—come close to a full government insurance, full Medicare for all system. They’ll leave in place the wasteful, inefficient, corrupt, redundant health care industry, gouged by a health care insurance system whose only energy seems to be paying its CEOs...
“The American people would never had voted to invade Iraq had there been a free flow of public information instead of Bush/Cheney’s propaganda, unrebutted by the cowardly Democratic Party...
“Bunch of gangsters hijacked our government, plunged us into a war of aggression, violated our constitution, our statutes and our international treaties. Result: tens of thousands of American soldiers disabled for life, over 4,000 have lost their lives, over a million Iraqis have lost their lives and the country’s destroyed. And we’re spending 14 million dollars an hour, 24 hours a day, on the Iraq War. Most of the American people would want their schools, clinics and drinking water systems, highways and bridges—they would want them repaired. They’d want their sewage treatment systems upgraded, they’d want the pollution controlled, but that money’s going to destroy Iraq. Or going into expensive weapons systems that were designed for the Soviet Union era of hostility, which are still in the pipeline, bleeding the American public, because Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and others, want more sales and profits...
“And now, one half of our entire federal operating budget is going into the military budget. And that military budget is being outsourced to corporations that cost us three to five times more to perform the function than if it was performed by government employees or government soldiers... Blackwater and Halliburton...
“The American people don’t want that. They have the votes; they keep losing. The American people want accountability in government. But there’s no impeachment drive against Bush and Cheney, the most multiply impeachable presidency in history...
“Corporate cheating of Medicare, corporate cheating of defense contracts, corporate looting of our natural resources, corporate tax shelters in the Bahamas, while they get all the benefits of tax supported services here...
“The people have the votes. You think they would approve of 61% of the corporations last year paying no federal income tax? You think they would approve of corporations paying their CEOs 500 times the entry-level wage, when in 1940 it was only 12 times? People have the votes. They keep losing. How could people who have the votes keep losing in a country that thinks of itself as a democracy? It doesn’t square, does it? That’s because it’s not a democracy. In operation, it’s a plutocracy, ruled by the rich and powerful. The two parties are basically representatives, indentured servants, of the rich and powerful, the giant corporations...
“As if that isn’t enough, these corporations are violating the moral code of parents by direct commercial marketing to young children, violent programming, pornographic programming, junk food, junk drink, undermining parental authority. These corporations have become electronic child molesters. And they don’t have any sense of shame...
“The whole commercialization of our society will spell the death knell of our democracy...
“The consequences of concentrated wealth and power, where the few decide for the many, are rooted in the lessons of history. When the few decides for the many, the many lose and the few prevail. The many lose and the few prevail...
“The question the American people have to ask themselves is: Why have most of them dropped out of democracy? Why have most of them given up on themselves, and accepted the old cliché, ‘You can’t fight city hall,’ or the more modern one: ‘You can’t fight Exxon.’ That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Watching American Idol doesn’t quite cut it. Spending your time updating your profile on Facebook doesn’t quite cut it. Endless gossiping on cell phones and messaging about the most trivial of trivial things in daily life doesn’t quite cut it.
“I want to make a contrast with Western Europe. Sixty years ago, Western Europe was rubble. Rubble. It was the end of World War II. Sixty years ago, the American people were a part of the most powerful country in the world, by every economic and military indicator. Now watch what happened. Sixty years ago, people in Western Europe demanded a living wage. And they got it. They demanded that they have universal health insurance. And they got it. They demanded that they had four to eight weeks of paid vacation, depending on the country. And they got it. They demanded to be paid for maternity leave, by law. And they got it. They demanded that they be able to easily form trade unions. And they got it...
“We didn’t get it. We didn’t get any of these things, by law. Sometimes we got the exact opposite, like the anti-union Taft-Hartley law, that is now 61 years old. It’s still on the books. The harshest anti-worker law in the western world, obstructing the formations of trade unions. All change does not start with knowledge. Knowledge is not enough. All change starts with shame or guilt. I prefer shame...
“The most deplorable phenomenon in our country today is the expressed concern the people have about where our country’s going—81% in last month’s poll say it’s going in the wrong direction—and the contrast between that expressed concern and the feeling of despair, demoralization and a general sense that nothing can be changed.
“Our collective mission has got to be to get the American people righteously angry enough to change. That doesn’t mean they go out of control. That doesn’t mean they abandon their reason—just the contrary. They fuel their reason with a level of self-confidence that they matter, they count and they’re going to change this country—in the right direction.
“The corporations will be our servants, not our masters, as they were designed to be our servants when they were chartered in the early 19th century in New England, and held on a tight leash. Corporations are not created by investors; they are funded by investors. They are created by state governments, who give them the charter to exist. They have been given far too much power over our lives. And most of the American people, in poll after poll, agree with that assertion.
“So it behooves all of us not to allow our country to continue to be run on behalf of these giant corporations, who’ve turned Washington into corporately controlled territory... not to allow a two-party elected dictatorship to propagandize us, as if we’re a functioning democracy...”
Depressing stuff, sensible stuff. Ralph Nader. His audience, however, isn’t as sane.
“Reichstag!” someone howls 30 seconds into the Q&A. Another lunatic rambles incoherently at Ralph while walking backward toward the door and feverishly bowing his thanks, because a seatbelt saved his mother’s life.
“Well that was dramatic,” Nader comments as the door slams shut. A beautiful young woman stands near the exit. She seems out of place. “You,” Nader points at Magdelina. BOOM! Like Mount fucking Vesuvius: “Yap yap yap, I was number one in my class, yap yap yap!” No one had the heart to stop her. After a full two minutes erupting nonsense, she wears herself out, like a puppy playing with a big ball of crazy. Entropy wins again.
The Q&A winds down, and it’s all over. I take a leak and exit the civic center to see Matt driving by in a silver minivan. Nader’s riding shotgun and pecking away at his laptop computer. Facebook? I wonder.
I get in my car and flip through a BEAST I’ve stealthily grabbed on my way out. My photograph had an ominous red squiggle running down my nose—on a black and white page! It looked as if I were weeping blood. What kind of maniac was leaving me these clues? How long had he been hunting me? How much time before he struck?
I drove back to BEAST HQ, sat down and flipped through a few more copies of the new issue. The squiggle was on all off them! It was a sign, no doubt. A cursory Google search for the article’s lede, “So, 4,000 rubes are dead,” revealed that I was indeed being threatened on various chat boards and blogs.
I shower, shave and drive south toward a local college that was to host Nader’s next Earth Week stop. The topic of discussion: “Who is eclipsing solar energy?” I arrive at SUNY Fredonia ahead of the crowd and don my disguise: A Blackwater baseball cap and T-shirt, and large, reflective sunglasses. The mercenary gear was manufactured in China and Nicaragua, respectively. It was slated for use in covert BEAST operations, but I need cover immediately, or so I imagine.
I hide in the bushes along the edge of a parking lot. The silver minivan passes and I think how easy it would be to kill Ralph Nader. The Blackwater apparel is imbued with evil, much like the ring from one of those movies about evil rings. I walk toward the lecture hall... Must fight urge to assassinate Nader...
“Press!” I shout, cutting in line. I show no credentials, and no one asks. I take a seat in the front row and slip my hat and glasses into my case. Ralph Nader would live, but for how long?
The audience, much larger than this morning’s, was there to see an endangered creature of American politics: The man who’d been critical in auto safety regulation, the creation of the Freedom of Information Act, OSHA, the EPA and killing the Chevy Corvair, is damn old. And he’s starting to act like it.
He repeated much of his earlier speech, adding that “no one owns the sun.” Not yet, Ralph. And “What are you going to tell your children when they ask what you were doing when the world was being ruined, updating your Facebook page?” Again with the Facebook, cell phones and text messaging. Contrasted with this younger crowd, Nader comes off as a grumpy retiree yelling at neighborhood kids to stay off his lawn. Shame, indeed.
The crowd doesn’t seem to notice the speech’s lack of substance on environmental issues. We never did find out who was eclipsing solar energy. A zaftig redhead in a tightfitting green T-shirt discreetly thumbs at her cell phone. Matt the campaign guru sits on the carpeted auditorium steps with his head in his hands. He looks doubly tired.
Entropy and evolution still on my mind, I scan the rows for Magdelina. She’s nowhere to be found.
As I’ve said, all organisms thwart the second law of thermodynamics, for a time, by eating. And natural selection allows for genetic complexity to develop over biological time. We’re in an era of evolving societal complexity. Multinational corporations have evolved and they now dominate the food chain. We’ve become the replaceable cells of these creatures. They can go on living, devouring and shitting on the planet long after the original cells are dead. But don’t be fooled: Entropy will end it all. Corporations. Humanity. Everything. Even sandwiches. Even Ralph Nader.
In the meantime, all we can do is fight this law of physics the only way we can, with our instinctive will to live. And if we get ANGRY enough and DEMAND that people take priority over profit, that life just might be worth living.
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